Gregorak makes World Cup debut
Vail, CO Colorado
SOELDEN, Austria – An impenetrable blanket of fog enveloped the Rettenbach Glacier Sunday afternoon to nix the opening race of the men’s Audi FIS Alpine World Cup. Defending giant slalom champion Ted Ligety (Park City, Utah) was within .02 of Frenchman Cyprien Richard’s first-run lead when officials called the race. Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller (Franconia, N.H.) had also booted up for a second run after finishing the first run in 23rd. The race will not be rescheduled.
Visibility was minimal and snow conditions were noted as “chunky” when the racers took to the gate for the men’s World Cup opener in Soelden. With six U.S. athletes kicking out of the start, the challenging conditions took its toll on the field.
“The whole way down was pretty tough. The visibility wasn’t great today and the snow was chunky,” said Ligety. “Since you couldn’t see that well it was hard to really gauge where you could push on the ski.”
With a fascinating new haircut, World Cup rookie Will Gregorak (Longmont), who trained with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and graduated from the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy, was only .19 out of the lead at the first split before making a substantial mistake on the steep. Gregorak was able to make it to the finish after a speed check, when he threw his skis sideways in order to stay in the course.
“I was a little nervous in the run-in up to it, but when I got on snow I felt pretty good and calm,” Gregorak said. “When I went out of the gate I felt nice and comfortable and skied well. I have to get used to how rough it is to start back there. But I’m happy with my mindset going into the run and how I skied.”
The visibility continued to change with the fog and sun moving in and out of the clouds throughout the first run, adding another challenging factor to the severely rutted course. With a little advice from teammate Tommy Ford (Bend, Ore.), Gregorak took full advantage of his start, feeling the vibrations of the crowd as he came onto the steep before the finish.
“Tommy Ford had a bit of good advice for me,” said Gregorak. “He said, ‘When you come over that steep break, you are going to see and feel the crowd. So you have to be ready to have the vibration coming down.’ And he was right, I could feel it!”
Miller, like Ligety experienced some trouble, after being down only one hundredth after the first split, he hip checked at the top of the steep. But in true Miller fashion, he made a remarkable recovery to qualify for the second run in 23rd.
The U.S. had two athletes qualify for the second run, Ligety in second and Miller in 23rd, before the race was canceled due to unfortunate weather with a huge cloud layer covering the course from just below the start to the finish. The race will not be rescheduled. According to FIS race protocol, canceled races in the World Cup openers and World Cup finals are not rescheduled.
“It’s always a bummer when you are in second place after the first run and they don’t run the second run. I felt like I was in a good position to go for the win or at least be on the podium,” said Ligety after the race was canceled. “It was gnarly, you could barely see anything so it’s definitely on the safer side, but it’s always disappointing.”
The U.S. Ski Team will head west to Colorado, including Vail, for some early season stateside training before heading back to Europe for the first slalom World Cup of the 2011 season in Levi, Finland.
“It will be nice to be stateside again training in Colorado,” said Ligety. “Hopefully we get some good slalom training in and get ready for the first slalom races.”
Vail native Sarah Schleper had the fourth-fastest second run on Saturday in the giant slalom, finishing 19th.
“The first run was really gnarly, but I could have charged so much harder,” said Schleper, 31, who began racing World Cup in 1995. “I’m so ready to be in there this season. I was so close to the podium last year and I know I can be back up there. I can ski better than I did today.”
She finished one spot behind her teammate Lindsey Vonn, of Vail. American Julia Mancuso finished 12th.
The race was won by Olympic giant slalom champion Viktoria Rebensburg in the opening event of the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season.
Vonn, who had a bobble followed by a balanced recovery in the first run, and teammate Schleper significantly picked up the pace in the second run. Schleper and Vonn posted the fourth and fifth fastest times separated by just one hundredth. Megan McJames (Park City, Utah) was also in the gate Saturday, but finished outside the top 30 in the first run.
“Today wasn’t my best day. I was expecting a lot more because I’ve been training really well,” Vonn said. “It was the first run jitters. I skied pretty conservatively. It was definitely challenging with the snow conditions. The course was getting pretty chopped up, but it’s no excuse. I just didn’t ski my best, but I’m still confident in my season.”
The U.S. women, although disappointed in their performance, laid down solid second runs leaving a desire for improvement at the next World Cup, set for Nov. 13-14 in Levi, Finland.